Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Duck with gooseberries, peas and lettuce
Around this time of year, gooseberries become the darling of social media. Shiny cherries, old, grumpy looking pumpkins and heritage tomatoes can briefly step aside from the iphone lense and form a queue behind these plump, veiny orbs. Restaurant menus also jump on this seasonal bandwagon, tempering their tang with creamy fools, or scattering raw slices with halibut crudo (which if I’m honest, makes my stomach turn a little). Yet gooseberries rarely turn up in home cooking, possibly losing ground to more user-friendly strawberries. I always associate gooseberries with when I was a child. Being relatively greedy and already knowledgeable of other types of sweet, messy summer berries, I stuffed my face without realising the cheek-raspingly sour consequences. I lived and learned the hard way.
Like anything bitter, sharp or sour, a little guidance from contrasting ingredients can conjure magical results. Sugars and fats seem to work best at this balancing act, and in this case a plump, laden duck proved the perfect sidekick. I’ve often struggled to cook duck in the past, with most methods that suggest frying and then roasting the breasts consistently producing overcooked, disappointingly grey results. So this time I stuck to the hobs and was much happier with the pink, juicy flesh.
As with many savoury dishes, there is nothing quite like a deep, meaty sauce to tie everything together. These intense reductions need a bit of time and care to get right, but are definitely worth all the effort spent browning, simmering and straining. In the end, a shockingly small puddle of sauce is produced, but it is compressed flavour, and only little is needed with each serving. The same principles of sauce making can be reproduced with beef, lamb, chicken etc etc…
It’s hard to ignore the other green, vibrant summer produce at the moment, with beautiful lettuces and, of course, peas working their way into lots of meals. The end result is a warm salad of sorts, a combination of rich, gamey duck and refreshing, multi-textured accompaniments.
1 duck, portioned into breasts, legs and wings. Carcass bones cut into pieces and reserved
For the pan-fried breast:
The breasts from the duck, trimmed of sinew and excess fat
1 large knob of butter
For the duck sauce:
The wings and bones from the duck, fat removed
1 shallot, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
1 large glass of white wine
500ml chicken stock
1 large knob of butter
For the gooseberry puree:
500g gooseberries, trimmed
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
3 tbsp of caster sugar
1 knob of butter
For the torched gooseberries:
1 handful of gooseberries, halved
2 handfuls of fresh peas, podded
A few large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into small pieces
½ a lemon, juice only
Preheat to oven to 160⁰C. Season the duck legs all over with salt and pepper. Place a metal rack above an oven dish and top with the legs, then slide into the oven and bake for 2 hours, or until the duck is tender in the middle with a crispy skin. When the legs are cooked, allow them to rest for 15 minutes, then strip from the bone in large chunks.
While the duck legs are cooking, make the gooseberry puree. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme and a good pinch of seasoning, and sauté for a couple of minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Add the gooseberries and the sugar, and continue to fry for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the berries start to melt. Taste a little of the sauce, and add more sugar if needed. Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor and blend well. Add the butter and blend for a further few seconds, until fully emulsified. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, cover and set aside.
For the sauce, pour a good glug of olive oil into a saucepan and bring up to a medium-high heat. Season the duck wings and bones and brown well in the hot pan, cooking in batches if necessary. Add the shallot, carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to fry for a couple more minutes, until the vegetables are slightly caramelised. Pour in the white wine and allow to reduce by two-thirds. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the crust from the bottom of the pan. Top up with the chicken stock and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid a second time, by around three-quarters, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, and stir in the butter. Keep warm.
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Pod the peas and add to the water with a good pinch of seasoning. Blanche for 1 minute, then drain. Pour over lots of cold water to halt the cooking process. Shell the peas into a small bowl. Tear up the lettuce and add to the peas.
Season the duck breasts all over and place them skin-side down into a cold, dry frying pan. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry for 6 minutes, until the skin is crispy and has released its excess fat. Turn the breasts over and continue to cook for a further 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked duck to a side plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice in half lengthways.
Halve the spare gooseberries and arrange cut-side up on a metal tray. Use a blow torch to char the berries, holding the flame over for about 10 seconds, or until they are slightly blackened.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the lettuce and peas, and sprinkle on a little seasoning. Use your hands to mix well.
To serve, arrange half a duck breast and a few pieces of leg meat to each plate. Add a large dollop of the gooseberry puree to the side. Scatter the torched berries, peas and lettuce around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the duck sauce.